Graduating seniors in Minnesota had the highest average score in the nation on the ACT college admission and placement exam for the third straight year in 2007, according to results released Wednesday by ACT.
The average composite score of Minnesota's seniors was 22.5 out of a possible 36 points, up from 22.3 in 2006. Wisconsin and Iowa tied for second with an average of 22.3. The average ACT score for the nation in 2007 was 21.2, up from 21.1 last year.
"Minnesotans can be proud that our students are once again nation-leading on the ACT," said Education Commissioner Alice Seagren.
The ACT and the SAT are both accepted by most colleges, and a growing number of colleges don't require standardized test scores at all. The ACT, traditionally more popular in the South and Midwest, is more curriculum-based. The SAT -- still predominant on the East and West Coasts -- focuses more on basic math, verbal and writing skills.
The ACT is made up of four separate exams in English, reading, math and science, plus an optional writing test which was introduced in February 2005. The ACT is given in all 50 states and is taken by the majority of graduates in 26 states, including Minnesota.
The state Department of Education said Minnesota's average score increased despite an increase in the total number of students taking the test. Seventy percent of Minnesota's graduating seniors took the test this year, the department said.
However, officials also viewed the results with caution.
"A deeper analysis of Minnesota's ACT test-takers reveals that just 56 percent of all college-bound students are ready for college-level mathematics and 38 percent are ready for college-level science," said Susan Heegaard, director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.
Heegaard also noted the achievement gap between white and minority students. "We really have to be looking at how to close that gap," she said.
State officials said the average scores for black and American Indian students dropped from a year ago. Black students -- who account for 3 percent of those taking the test -- averaged 17.4 in 2007, a drop of 0.4 from 2006 and 5.1 points behind their white counterparts. American Indian students averaged 19.7, down from 19.9.
"It's been a problem that we've had for 30 years. I'm just tired of saying, 'Yes, it's terrible and we need to do something about it.' " Seagren said. "We want to dig deeper and look more robustly at how we can help. We also want to look at the schools that are beating the odds."
Officials also noted that many students leaving high school are not fully prepared for college.
Benchmark scores for each of the four areas covered by the tests predict the ability for students to have a 75 percent chance of earning a C in a college-level course.
Minnesota's recent graduates did fairly well in English testing, with 78 percent reaching the benchmark in English composition and 62 percent reaching it in reading. But 56 percent of Minnesotans reached the math benchmark, and only 38 percent hit the science benchmark.
Overall, only 31 percent of Minnesota's 2007 class met all four ACT benchmark scores.
"Far too few of this year's high school grads learned all the skills they need to have if they're going to have a good chance to succeed in math and science classes," said Richard L. Ferguson, CEO and chairman of the board of ACT, the nonprofit based in Iowa City, Iowa, that owns the exam.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)